What is Usability & How to Build a Skillful Usability Lab

Peter Martinez updated on 2024-06-06 13:44:58

What makes Google products so simple to use? What gets us so hooked onto Instagram and Facebook? What makes users instantly fall in love with almost every Apple product? The answer to all these questions is a simple concept called Usability. All these products are easy to use, intuitive and solve a user's problem. If you have a device or app that you enjoy using, chances are that its designers did a good job researching and testing to fine-tune its usability. It is no surprise that organizations spend so much on usability research and validation.

What is Usability

Usability is a measure of how well a specific user in a specific context can use a product/design to achieve a defined goal effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily. Designers usually measure a design's usability throughout the development process—from wireframes to the final deliverable—to ensure maximum usability.

Usability is a necessary condition for survival of any product in the digital world. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. There's no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defence when users encounter a difficulty. As an end user of an e-commerce website, how would you even purchase a product, if you cannot even find it on the website? It is then clear that usability not just contributes to user delight but also defines the success of your business.

What makes a product usable?

The term usability can be prone to perceptions. Therefore, it is always recommended to follow a tried and tested usability model. A product's usability is based on five core qualities that you can test for. These qualities make a huge difference in the overall quality and success of your product. The 5 qualities are detailed below –

  • Learnability. How quickly are first-time users able to understand basic navigation and functions?
  • Efficiency. Can users perform tasks relatively quickly? 
  • Memorability. When users go away for a while and come back, how quickly can they reacquaint themselves with the basic navigation and functions?  
  • Errors. What errors do users make? How severe are the errors? How easily can users understand and rebound from those errors?
  • Satisfaction. How much do users enjoy the interface and completing tasks within it? (Both as they are using the product and how they report satisfaction afterwards.)

There are many other important quality attributes. A key one is utility, which refers to the design's functionality: Does it do what users need?

A good product meets all the usability and utility qualities listed above.

How does usability fit into UX

People often confuse usability with user experience and ease of use. Usability is a component of user experience (UX) design. UX design starts with design thinking. Design thinking focuses on empathizing with end users and identifying the pain points in a user's journey and eventually coming up with rapid prototypes to solve the pain point. After you've determined that your product can solve users' problems, you must address its usability. A design's usability depends on how well its features accommodate users' needs and contexts. Therefore, you are responsible for your design's usability.

Usability refers to how easy a product is to use—how easily you can accomplish a given task with the product. UX refers to the overall experience users have with the product, from beginning to end.

Take for instance the story of Airbnb. It's hard to believe, but in 2009, Airbnb was close to going bust. Airbnb constantly heard from its users that the website offered a bad user experience. On probing, it became clear that the photos being used to display the properties were grim. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. Users couldn't even really see what it is that they were paying for. Indeed, the core of the problem was bad usability. To solve the problem, Airbnb decided to fix usability. They embarked on an approach that would undoubtedly improve the quality of photography and therefore the digital product but would require an extra service component. It involved travelling to New York, renting a camera, spending some time with customers listing properties and replacing amateur photography with beautiful high-resolution pictures. If there is one user experience aspect that made Airbnb what it is today it is usability.

How to make your designs usable

Usability should not be considered as an add-on or a process. It is mindset that needs to drive the way you build the product. 2 mandatory practices that can make your design usable are research and testing.

Design thinking is a world class framework that enables you to seed usability early in the product lifecycle –

Discover Stage (Empathize and Define) - In the beginning, your focus should be on researching user needs and pain points. You must spend time with users, carefully listen to them and if possible, see them in the context of activities they are trying to perform. It is your job to really listen and observe what your actual users (or prospective users) want, need, and encounter when using your product. You do this by conducting user experience research and interpreting the resulting data into affinity diagrams, customer journey maps, user personas or persona spectrums. Define a pointed pain point and attempt to solve only problem at a time.

Ideate Stage – Come up with lots of ideas to solve the problem. Initially the focus should be on the quantity of ideas and eventually you should use objective criteria which factor in the value to the end user and narrow down to a subset or a single idea that you would like to take forward.

Rapid Prototyping & Testing Stage – This is a very critical part of the usability evaluation. Designers develop quick prototypes using various techniques. These techniques could employ a visual design tool or a paper prototyping technique. Several prototyping tools are available in the market to create these prototypes. Designers should test the prototype preferably with real users and get feedback. The prototype-test iteration cycle should continue till you have reasonable confidence on the usability of your solution.

The Best Tool for Usability Design

Rapid prototyping is imperative to build and design for usability. Wondershare Mockitt is a popular and industry grade prototyping and visual design tool that fires up your usability design. It is important to keep usability at the forefront as you are testing—even (or especially) when you're still working with prototypes and wireframes. Mockitt enables you to do exactly that.


While you are engaged in rapid prototyping, you must use a tool which lets you come up with quick prototypes. With Mockitt, you can create a complete prototype in only 10 minutes! Mockitt is a lightweight online tool with an intuitive interface. The simple drag and drop workflows make the learning curve shallow and empower beginners. The 500+ libraries of icons, components, screens and templates; with continuous publishing from the design community are indeed a boon for ux designers.

Usability is important to ux designers, researchers, and developers. As you work on your prototype, it is natural that you are working with a team. Mockitt supports collaboration and teamwork. You can comment and share feedback with your colleagues in real-time. Mockitt is also ideal if members of your team work remotely. Moreover, usage of this tool comes with time and cost savings. It has been reported that the tool saves design and research teams, 6-8 hours as well as $200 on an average per project.

Once you conclude the ux research and visual design, it is natural that you will hand over the project specifications to your development team. Mockitt offers browser based inspect and export tools which enable seamless communication of design specifications with the development team. And yes, all of this can be done within the browser itself.

It is worth noting that Mockitt uses the Olympic Games Cloud service infrastructure. Mockitt is a fully cloud-based prototyping platform. You can test, share, and gather feedback quickly while saving data. This is extremely helpful as you iterate over the prototype and test stages of design thinking.

It is clear that usability has a direct impact on the business and user delight. Since it is a concept of such importance, choosing the right prototyping and usability design tool is imperative. The design community recommends Mockitt as the best tool to design for usability.